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HIKING IN BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK


La Sal Mountains from the Devils Garden Loop Double O Arch Landscape Arch

Welcome to Bigroads.com's guide to the hiking trails of Badlands National Park!

Badlands National Park boasts some of the most colorful rock formations & badlands in the United States. There are only a few official hiking trails to find here, but you are free to hike or backpack off-trail almost anywhere you want in the park. Budget yourself at least a full day to explore the trails & terrain of this special place.

Before you set out for a hike in Badlands National Parks, you should be aware of the following:
  • Extremely hot days are very common from June through September (90+ degrees is very common).
  • It is difficult (and sometimes dangerous) to hike here after it rains (the trails become extremely slippery).
  • Start hiking early in the morning (i.e. 6:00-8:00am) to beat some of the summer heat.
  • Thunderstorms can be common in summer, and there are no places to seek shelter.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes and keep your distance from other animals (bighorn sheep, buffalo, prairie dogs) in this national park.
  • Hiking here in winter can be a snowy/icy affair; foot traction is often highly recommended (i.e. Microspikes); snowshoes are never needed.
  • Always hike with at least 2 liters of water per person (the general rule is actually 1 liter per person per hour).
  • There are some great off-trail hiking and backpacking opportunities in this national park.
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EASY TRAILS

Presented below is an overview of all (relatively) EASY trails in Badlands National Park (listed in alphabetical order):

HIKE NAME OUR
RATING
TOTAL
DISTANCE
TRAILHEAD NOTES GUIDE
BOOK
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail 7 / 10 0.5 miles Badlands Loop Road boardwalk trail with fine views link
Door Trail 8 / 10 0.75 mile Door & Window parking area this short walk starts with a 300-foot long boardwalk and eventually ends with fine views of the Badlands; many people will continue off-trail beyond the end of this trail in order to create their own memorable badlands experience (this is done at your own risk, of course) link
Fossil Exhibit Trail 7 / 10 0.25 miles Badlands Loop Road boardwalk trail with good views of the badlands and also some fossil-related exhibits link
Window Trail 7 / 10 0.25 mile Door & Window parking area easy walk to another good view of the badlands link

MODERATE TRAILS

Presented below is an overview of all MODERATE trails in Badlands National Park (listed in alphabetical order):

HIKE NAME OUR
RATING
TOTAL
DISTANCE
TRAILHEAD NOTES GUIDE
BOOK
Castle Trail 9 / 10 5.0 miles one-way
or
10.0 miles
Badlands Loop Road or Old Northeast Road this trail is more about wildlife watching opportunities (bighorn sheep) and solitude than it is about witnessing amazing badlands formations; you'll absolutely beat the crowds if you hike this entire trail; if you are doing the 10-mile out-and-back trip, make sure to take the Medicine Root Loop trail to make a semi-loop link
Medicine Root Loop 8 / 10 4.0 miles Old Northeast Road a fine loop from Old Northeast Road; often combined with extended hikes along the Castle Trail; wildlife watching opportunities (bighorn sheep) are very good link
Notch Trail 9 / 10 1.5 miles Door & Window parking area trail includes ascending a fun, long & steep log ladder (not for those with a fear of heights); excellent view of the White River Valley at the end of the trail; this trail starts at the south end of the Door and Window parking area link
Saddle Pass 8 / 10 0.25 mile Badlands Loop Road short but very steep trail to nice views; connects with the Notch Trail & Medicine Root Loop link

Badlands National Park trail map > link

TOP 5 DAY HIKES IN BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Here are our selections for the top 5 day hikes in Badlands National Park:
  • Door Trail
  • Notch Trail
  • Castle Trail
  • Saddle Pass
  • Medicine Root Loop

BACKPACKING IN BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK

  • Badlands National Park is a great place to experience a short one or perhaps two night backpacking trip, even though there are no official established trails.
  • Most backpackers will set out from the Sage Creek primitive campground or the Sage Creek Basin Overlook and hike into the Sage Creek Wilderness Area (with the help of a map and/or GPS). However, you can essentially backpack just about anywhere you want in this national park, so long as you camp a specific distance from roads and developed trails, and your selected campsite is completely out of sight from all park roads. Another option for backpacking is by hiking a portion of the Castle Trail and then going off-trail from there in order to make sure you make the minimum distance requirements for setting up camp.
  • As of 2016, no permits are required to backpack here, so all you have to do is show up to a Visitor Center and ask for some recommendations on where to go. When selecting a campsite, make sure you aren't in a dry wash (flash flooding is possible).
  • More information on backpacking in Badlands National Park can be found here > link

MORE GREAT DAY HIKES NEARBY

There are several other great day hikes located within an hour or two of Badlands National Park, including:
  • Harney Peak - this is the highpoint of South Dakota and you'll find a unique stone tower at the top; combine trails to also visit Little Devil's Tower; highly recommended
  • Crow Peak - one of the best hikes in the Black Hills
  • Devil's Bathtub - fun hike in Spearfish Canyon
  • George S. Mickelson Trail - South Dakota's most famous rail trail
  • Presidential Trail - this short walk is the best way to get up close to the faces of Mount Rushmore

RECOMMENDED MAPS & GUIDEBOOKS

There are only a few published maps & guidebooks that provide driving directions & trail information for hikes in Badlands National Park:
  • Badlands National Park: South Dakota, USA Outdoor Recreation Map: > link
  • Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills: Including the Badlands > link

LEARN MORE ABOUT BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK

We highly recommend visiting these websites to learn more about Badlands National Park:
  • NPS.gov's official Badlands National Park website > link
  • Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to 58 National Parks > link
  • National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 8th Edition > link
Please send us an email (gparsons66@hotmail.com) if you discover that any of the above links are broken.


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Yellow Mounds Overlook along Badlands Loop Road

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climbing the ladder on the Notch Trail, Badlands National Park

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typical Badlands National Park scenery

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Prairie Dog in Badlands National Park

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scenery near the Door Trail

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the delicate crust found all over Badlands National Park

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prairie meets badlands along the Badlands Loop Road

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buffalo in Badlands National Park

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off-trail near the Door Trail and Window Trail




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